Kde domov můj... that is how the Czech National Anthem begins. But where are the origins of this song?
Kde domov můj or Where Is My Home didn’t start as a national anthem at all. At first, it was just a song supposed to be played a few times in a theatre. So how did it become a song that makes the Czech puff up with pride and how come it became so popular in other countries that the locals actually believed it was their original song?
Table of Contents
Where It Began
Josef Kajetán Tyl was a Czech actor, writer, translator and much more. He lived during the period of Czech National Revival and that was his motivation to write a satirical theatre play about the Germanized Czech population. He called the play Fidlovačka, aneb žádný hněv a žádná rvačka and it consisted of 21 music numbers by František Škroup. The play premiered on December 21, 1834 in the Estates Theatre (Stavovské divadlo) and number 19, which was a song about searching for one’s home, received a very positive response of the public and quickly gained on popularity. You guess right, it’s the song that is today’s National Anthem of the Czech Republic.
The song was performed by the character of a blind violinist and originally had two verses (Škroup slightly altered Tyl’s original text). Although there were other songs from this play that became quite popular, this one was clearly exceptional. It was published also separately in an 1835 patriotic song collection and in other works.
It was not all just praise, though. While common people hummed the song, many professionals criticized not just this song but also the whole play, among them the poets Jan Neruda and Karel Hynek Mácha or the journalist Karel Havlíček Borovský. Bedřich Smetana himself wasn’t a fan but when asked by Jan Neruda to compose “something better” for consideration of the national anthem, he replied that he would “hardly oppose a song which the people themselves have raised as their anthem”.
Czech Anthem at the Present
And so the people’s choice won and although Tyl’s song was censored at several occasions, eventually, it became not just a patriotic song but also the national anthem. The Czechoslovak Ministry of National Defense decreed in 1918 that the first verse would be played together with the first verse of the Slovak song Nad Tatrú sa blýska at festive occasions and in 1993, after the splitting of Czechoslovakia, the first verse became the national anthem of the Czech Republic and one of the state symbols. Since 1998, the second verse is also a part of the annex of the law and the archaic text was slightly modernized.
In 2008, the Czech government published four official versions of the anthem (female, male, mixed-voice choir and instrumental). You can listen to them here. The male version was performed by Adam Plachetka, you can find more about him in Adam Plachetka – World Renown Czech Opera Singer.
Lyrics, Additions and Versions in Other Languages
These are the lyrics of the two original verses of the song which became the Czech National Anthem:
Since the 19th century, different authors made additions to the anthem. And so the third verse is Moravian, the fourth is Silesian and the fifth one is Slovak.
In addition, there is a full Moravian and Slovak version of the song and also a Panslavic one. Besides, interprets from countries like Hungary, Croatia, Germany and other performed the song in the language of their country. In some countries, the melody with the local lyrics became so popular that some people still consider it something that originated in their country.
There are also “special” versions of the anthem. There’s the indecent version that sings of breasts and alcohol, the catholic and legionary version, the feminist one, the spiritistic…
As one of the national symbols, the anthem is protected by law. That means that it can be played only in a proper and dignified way.